Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Morakot, road and trail update.

Post Morakot update. 2nd September. [September 16 update]

Many roads continue to be opened up. Few are ready for casual visitors in regular (IE not 4-wheel drive/low wheelbase) vehicles, and sensitive to any bad weather. If you have no genuine reason to travel there, or are not confident in doing so - don't.

As well as conventional hikes in mountains further to the north, we are now doing trips via typhoon-affected areas in the south. Normality is a long way off yet, and precise itineraries are difficult to describe until close to departure.
We are not interested in activities in the disaster zone that interfere with official recovery work, and do not benefit the areas in some tangible, practical way. Simple - if we are not wanted/needed there we don't go.

However, if you have some special skill to offer that may be of use to these communities we are happy to help out with logistics - transport, translation etc. barkingdeerinfo@gmail.com

Latest road conditions.

As mentioned in my previous post, do not venture into areas that are not officially opened (for simplicity's sake assume that includes all western mountain areas between Shueili in Nantou County and Pingdung). Doing so is dangerous and interferes with recovery efforts.

Southern Cross-Island Highway (Number 20).
Contrary to early fears it seems that the much-loved Southern Cross Highway may not share the fate of abandonment the Central Cross (Number 8) had after the 921 earthquake 10 years ago. It is extensively damaged, but it could be open again within one or two years. The roads department has a target of March next year. I wonder though what will actually happen when the enormous cost of all this becomes clear...
It is now possible to make it to Baolai via a rough alternative route. From Baolai to Taoyuan may be passable in days, Taoyuan to Meishan will be more difficult to reopen. The unpopulated section from Meishan onwards via Tienchr to the Yakao tunnel has been inspected from the air by the military and is not as badly damaged as feared but will not be a high priority initially. [September 16 update] The section between Jiasian and Baolai is now open to regular cars, expect very rough conditions and delays. Hopes that the the road will be opened as far as Taoyuan by late October. To Meishan and Yakao by March 2010...maybe.

From the east the highway is open to Lidao and perhaps as far as Siangyang. [September 16 update] The road is open past Lidao as far as kilometer mark 148, but closed at the Lidao tunnel between 6pm and 6am. The Roads Department hope to have access to Yakao within a week.

Alishan Highway (Number 18).
The priority at the moment is to get some form of contact to the various communities in the Alishan area (remember there is much more to Alishan than just the forest recreation area). It is expected the main highway will have to be rerouted in places. It seems access to the recreation area by off-road vehicle may be possible now, regular cars by mid to late September, but large coaches not for many, many months. [September 16 update] Regular cars can make it to Shihjhuo (km63). The damage at km mark 73 is causing problems, the alternative road around it is only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. The roads department estimate Alishan Rec Area will be open to small buses along the main highway by the start of November. By January large tour buses may be allowed up - passengers being shuttled across the difficult sections by smaller vehicles.

[September 16 update] Highway 21 (turning in number 18) running north from Shueili, Nantou County may be open past Tataka by early October. Not sure about road conditions - expect the worst.
The forest railway will not be operating in any way for many months, major long-term changes are being planned.

[September 16 update] Most other Alishan roads have been opened up to some degree. Lots of diversions and atrocious conditions.

Highway 20 stops just north of Jiaxian at Hsiaolin. Very rough and roundabout access to Namasia is now possible from the west. See Lief's blog for the latest. [September 16 update]It is possible to travel as far as Siaolin by regular car if conditions (weather) is perfect.
Namasia can be accessed by two routes over the Alishan range. Both are long and only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. Only genuine recovery vehicles welcome. The original route of highway 21 from Jiasian is not expected to be reopened for at least 3 years.

Wutai, Maolin, and Lioukuei.
Roads have been reopened to most in to all these areas. Expect many diversions, dangerous sections, and restrictions. [September 16 update] Highway 24 has been opened as far as the 45 km mark. Several sections require 4-wheel drive vehicles and may be closed due to falling rocks.
[September 16 update] The Southern Link rail line is now running again.

Hiking Trails.

Yushan (Jade Mountain) Main Peak
Access to the trailhead at Tataka (Tatajia) is still impossible. Permits will not be issued at least until after October and possibly not until January 2010. I expect the actual trail to be in reasonable condition. [September 16 update] Strong rumors that the main peak will be reopened mid-October.

Yushan - Longer trails.
Do not expect to get permission to hike routes (Bada shiou, Mapo, Southern Second, Batongguan Cross Island) that involve the Dungpu-Batongguan trail for at least 6 months or even years.

Jiaming Lake and Sinkang.
Access to the Siangyang trailhead from the west may be impossible for a year or two. Emergency vehicles can travel up from the east and I have hopes that in the next few monthsJiaming - and even Sinkang will be opened up for hiking, especially as the Walami trail (near Yuli, Hualian County, the eastern end of the Batongguan trail) is officially open as far as Walami Cabin now.

Guan/Kuan Mountain.
The trailhead for this mountain, the 'Southern Stars' nearby, and the Southern First Section is on the section of the Southern Cross Highway that will be repaired last. Will be closed the rest of this year and maybe much longer.

North Dawu
The road from Taiwu village to the trailhead has been severely damaged and is very unlikely to be repaired this year.

Southern Nantou trails/peaks.
The various trails and peaks with trailheads in southern Nantou should be considered impossible for the next few months. Little information is available about trail conditions and anyway road travel south of Shueili is restricted to emergency vehicles only.

Northern and central Mountains.
Most peaks and trails in northern and north-central Taiwan are back to as they were before Morakot.

Snow Mountain and around.
The main peak and most of the Wuling Farm based routes are open as before. The standard Daba (from the west) route is still closed due to slippage on the Dalu Forest Road. [September 16 update] Daba's traditional approach is now open (well not this week), the Dalu Forest Road must be hiked in from Guanwu.

Taroko Long Trails.
The high mountain and long trails in Taroko Park are open...well not really if you are a foreigner applying for permits, no change there! For details on the tourist trails in the gorge see their website.

Some thoughts:
Taiwan, being a democratic and free-speech minded society, is rightfully engaged in various lively debates on the decisions made before and after this typhoon: rural settlements, cultivation practices, water diversion projects, emergency responses, resettlement policy, restoration etc. It is important that all these issues be rationally analyzed and the correct long-term conclusions implemented effectively.

However, we must not forget the severe topography of the area and the scale of the rainfall experienced here last month - what came in one weekend exceeded that received by many places in several years.

For example Alishan received 2.7 meters (109 inches) over 3 days, Pingdung received 1.4 meters (55 inches) in 24 hours.

For comparison, some 'wet' places' average annual rainfall:

London - 0.6 meters.
Vancouver - 1.1 meters.
New York - 1.2 meters.
Melbourne -0.6 meters.
Dehli - 0.8 meters

Typhoons affect Taiwan every summer, and people are usually well prepared. Morakot was different.

For some educated analysis of landslides have a good look around David Petley's On The Slide blog.

Names, names, names...

Taiwan could do much better (don't normally say it as politely as that) when romanizing - that is, writing Chinese words using 'English' letters. Several places in the news these days have been causing confusion:

Cishan ( 旗山 ) also written as Chishan, Qishan. Mistakenly not marked at all on the otherwise very good tourist maps of Taiwan - it's where all the roads meet.
Jiaxian (甲仙) also sometimes written as Chiashien, Jia Sian, Jiasian. Usually refers to the town, famous for it's taro products, but also the name of the township that includes Hsiaolin Village.
Liukuei (六龜) also written Liukuai, Liouguei.
Taoyuan (桃源) this remote township/village in, Kaohsiung County, happens to have the same name as the city just south of Taipei.
Namasiya (那瑪夏) also written as Namasia, Namasyia, Namaxia. This area until last year went by the name of Sanming (Sanmin).
Hsiaolin (小林) also written as Hsiao Lin, Shiao Lin, Xiaolin, Siaolin.
The Cishan River is the lower section of the Nantze Sian River.

As you see I'm pretty confused/have given up on the correct spellings too...see Pinyinnews for a sensible perspective.

And for you students of Chinese:
搶通 refers to the emergency (often rough) opening of roads.
堰塞湖 barrier lakes.